How Should Fashion Schools Address Sustainability?

Faculty at top design colleges reflect on what is — and isn’t — working.

Fashion schools are facing a predicament: how to teach sustainability in the context of profound climate change, when the multi-trillion-dollar industry students will presumably graduate into is responsible for a chunk of global wastewatercarbon emissions and tragedies like the Rana Plaza (garment) factory collapse in Bangladesh 10 years ago.

As fashion reckons with its impact on the climate and people around the world, schools are also thinking about how to address it within their curriculums.

This predicament dates back to the very beginnings of mass production. The fashion industry “established its production processes back in the Industrial Revolution, and then with the Ford manufacturing model of production — quicker, faster — and de-skilling of workers, that the West in particular has dominated and exported to every other country around the world as the system of fashion… And that system no longer works,” Dr. Sass Brown, the course director of Kingston University London’s Sustainable Fashion MA, summarizes. “It’s really important that we have dedicated academic space and time to research, analyze and find new solutions.”

It’s more difficult when you consider how, even in the broader industry, sustainability has become one of the hottest buzzwords, frequently resulting in greenwashing, with brands tossing around words like “eco-friendly” or “conscious” in marketing materials without definitions.

“Sustainability is one of those terms that’s become quite problematic because of its broad-based interpretation,” Dr. Brown says. “It was in broad terms defined by the [United Nations] Brundtland Commission back in 1987.” Unspecific to any industry, the commission described it as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

It’s the job of educators to

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